An original, limited-edition,
fine art print is a work of art conceived and developed by the
artist for the purpose of making an edition. The artist creates an image
on a matrix of suitable material for the process to be used such as a
lithographic stone for litho, a copper plate for etching, et al. In collaboration
with a master printer, proofs are created as the artwork develops until
the artist is satisfied with the result. The artist approves the final
proof (called a B.A.T.), and the edition can be printed in a quantity
predetermined by the artist, using the B.A.T. proof as a standard. After
printing, the edition is usually signed, numbered, and dated.
Limited-edition fine art prints are not to be confused with reproductions
of existing works that are reproduced photo mechanically. These reproductions
are usually posters, but sometimes called prints. Generally such prints
are unsigned and not numbered, but they can appear to be signed if the
signature of the artist was also reproduced photo mechanically as part
of the printing plate. Most posters and museum reproductions fall into
this category of commercially mass-produced prints.
Original prints are most often discussed with reference to the printing
technique that was used to produce them; for instance, you will find lithographs,
etchings, aquatints, and screenprints, amongst others that are available.
Relief printing is a generic term used to describe methods in which the
raised areas of the printing element are inked and printed. The most common
relief printing techniques are woodcut and linocut.
Woodcut is one of the oldest and simplest forms of printmaking. Various
implements (both hand tools and power tools) can be used to cut the image
into a block of wood. Paper is placed over the inked block and rubbed
by hand or passed through a press to transfer the ink from block to paper
to create the image.
Woodcut prints and illustrations were first popularized in China in the
9th century and spread to Europe in the 14th century where they became
a popular medium for the mass distribution of religious and instructive
imagery. The woodcut was developed to an exceptional level of artistic
achievement in Japan during the 17th-18th century, the ukiyo-e period.
The lino block consists of a thin layer of linoleum mounted on wood. This
material is easily carved using simple knives and gouges. The image is
then transferred to paper as with a woodcut.
A general category of printing techniques characterized by the incision
of lines or images into a surface of a plate, which is usually metal.
The whole plate is inked and then wiped to remove the ink from the plate's
surface, leaving ink only in the incised areas. The paper is dampened
so that, under pressure, it will be squeezed into the inked recesses of
the plate. Thin films of ink are sometimes left on the surface of the
plate to achieve tonal effects.
A metal plate is incised with a tool called a burin. Great skill is required
to manipulate the burin as it is pushed at different angles and degrees
of pressure to produce a variety of marks and lines. Engraving techniques
were used by the Greeks, Romans and Etruscans for decorating objects but
were not used for printmaking until the mid 15th century in Germany. Engraved
images are comprised a multitude of crisp, fine lines. Shading is traditionally
rendered by cross-hatching or similar marks.
As with engraving, this is process in which marks are made on a plate
using a sharp, pointed instrument. Unlike engraving, in which small amounts
of metal are completely removed as the lines are incised, drypoint is
characterized by the curl of displaced metal, called the burr, which forms
as the line is cut. When inked, the burr creates a distinctive velvety
appearance. This technique is usually done on soft copper plates. As the
edition is printed, the burr becomes flattened and less distinct. Therefore
it is generally preferable to have a print with a low impression number
from a drypoint edition.
This is very beautiful but time-consuming technique which was most popular
in the 18th and 19th centuries. In creating a mezzotint, first the entire
metal plate is roughened by marking fine lines into the plate in all directions
with a rocker, making the surface receptive to ink. Printing at this stage
in the process would render the entire paper black. Tones are created
by burnishing or scraping into the plate, working from black back to middle
values and highlights.
An intaglio process introduced in the early 1500's that uses acid to make
marks in a metal plate. The plate is covered with an acid-resistant coating
called a ground. The image is drawn using a sharp needle to scrape through
the ground, exposing the plate. The plate is then immersed in an acid
bath in which marks are made as exposed areas are eaten away. The characteristics
of the marks produced depend on the tool used to draw the image, the type
of ground used to coat the surface of the plate (hard or soft ground),
and the length of time the plate is left in the acid bath.
Aquatint is a etching method introduced in the mid-17th century to create
a more subtle tonal range than could be achieved with straight etching
technique. Powdered resin is made to adhere to a metal plate; the metal
that remains exposed around the tiny drops of resin is bitten in the acid
bath, creating a pitted, grainy surface. These textured areas hold a thin
layer of ink which prints as an area of tone. The longer the plate is
left in the acid, the deeper the texture will be bitten and the darker
it will print. A plate may be bitten several times for a range of tonal
areas. An acid-resistant "stop-out" can be painted onto the
plate to protect certain areas from being bitten in subsequent acid baths.
An Intaglio method where the artist paints using strong acid, directly
onto the aquatint ground of an etching plate. Depending on the amount
of time the acid is left on the plate, light to dark tones can be achieved.
To control the acid application, saliva, ethylene glycol, or Kodak Photoflo
solution can be used. Traditionally a clean brush was coated with saliva,
dipped into nitric acid and brushed onto the ground, hence the term "spitbite".
A photographic technique used in combination with etching or aquatint.
The metal plate is heated and dusted with a fine rosin or aquatint ground.
In a darkroom, the image is exposed from a positive transparency (usually
a glass plate made from the original negative) onto a sensitized gravure
carbon tissue or film. This image, in turn, is transferred to the metal
plate. The plate is bathed in warm water, causing the unexposed emulsion
on the carbon print to be washed away, leaving the image in relief. Ferric
chloride is then applied to the plate to eat away the copper in proportion
to the highlights and shadows of the gelatin relief. The finished plate
is printed by hand by usual intaglio methods. This process has great fidelity
to the tonal range of the original photograph.
A process invented in the late 18th century, based on the antipathy of
grease and water. The image is drawn on a smooth stone or plate using
pencils, crayons, tusche, grease, lacquer, or synthetic materials, or
sometimes by means of a photochemical or transfer process. After the image
is drawn, the stone or plate is dampened and ink is applied with a roller.
The greasy image repels the water and holds the oily ink while the rest
of the stone's surface does the opposite. The entire surface is treated
with a solution of gum arabic and nitric acid before inking in order to
enhance this effect. Printing is accomplished in a press similar to that
used in intaglio processes.
A process of printing through an opening of material or cutout design.
Screenprint (Serigraph, Silkscreen)
A stencil is adhered to a material (now synthetic nylon is used instead
of silk) stretched tightly over a frame. The image areas are, open fabric
through which ink or paint is forced with a squeegee. Screenprints can
be made onto almost any material.
The key characteristic of a monoprint or monotype is that no two prints
are identical, though many of the same elements may be present. All or
part of a monoprint is created from printed elements whereas a monotype
image is painted directly onto a smooth plate and then transferred to
paper in a press. These prints are often hand-colored after they are printed.
A direct method for hand coloring through a stencil. The stencil itself
is usually knife-cut from thin-coated paper, paperboard, plastic, or metal.
A stencil and stencil-brush may be used to make multicolor prints or for
tinting black and white prints.
Iris prints are created by printing computer-generated images on a large
scale ink jet printer manufactured by IRIS. The ink is dispersed by a
sophisticated print head in a fine mist of minute droplets in order to
deliver a continuous tone image. Iris prints can be printed using highly
saturated, archival, water-based inks on a wide range of materials, from
traditional fine art papers to fabric and wood veneers.
Other printers can be used and are also computer generated and realized.
Some printers may use pigment-based archival inks rather than water-based
inks. In addition to the materials that can be printed on with Iris printers,
some printers can accommodate rigid materials such as copper plates or
Paper is one of the most important elements in printmaking. The choice
of paper for an artist's image is crucial to the final effect. To be archival,
it is imperative that the paper be pH neutral, or “acid-free”.
Paper was invented in China in the first century. It spread westward,
arriving in Spain through Arab influence, and eastward to Japan and Korea.
The basic raw materials are cotton, linen rags, and barks beaten into
fibers. The fibers are mixed with water and poured into a vat. A special
mould is dipped into the vat and pulled out. The newly formed sheet of
paper is pressed and dried. Somewhat different methods evolved in the
East and West which accounts for the wide variety of Western and Japanese
Commercial methods have been developed to process wood fiber into paper
by cooking wood chips with steam and chemicals under high temperature
and pressure to remove impurities, which deteriorate rapidly on exposure
to light and air. Wood fiber papers are not archival, though methods have
been developed to make them more appropriate for artists’ use.
In addition to the materials used in its manufacture, there are several
other characteristics distinguishing different types of paper. Papers
come in a variety of weights, or thicknesses. The surface of the paper
can be either smooth or rough, depending on how it is pressed. Hot-pressed
paper has a much smoother surface than cold-pressed paper; the smoother
the surface, the less a paper will “grip” the media applied
to it and the less the marks will bleed. Some papers are sized; that is,
they are treated with a moisture-resistant substance to keep the paper
from absorbing too much water and pigment and keep the colors vibrant
Most often the artist's signature is placed at the bottom of the print
along with the impression number. This number is expressed by means of
a fraction along with the date of publication. The denominator equals
the total number of prints in the edition; the numerator represents the
specific number within the total edition. For example, 1/35 would indicate
that the total number of the prints in the edition is 35 and this particular
print is the first impression. This may be altered with the Artist, with
the signiture and impression number being reflected on the back of the
work, although not traditional.
Proofs are also signed.
AP - Artist's Proof
A certain percentage of prints are reserved for the artist's personal
use and are usually identical to the edition prints.
TP - Trial Proof
Proofs showing variations in the image as the artist developed the print.
CTP - Colour Trial Proof
Proofs showing variations in colours.
RTP - Right to Print or, Bon a Tirer (BAT)
The first proof that meets the artist's standards for the entire edition.
It is used as a guide against which each print in the edition is compared
as it is printed.
PP - Printers Proof
Proofs reserved for the printers with whom the artist collaborated. These
usually resemble the editioned prints.
SP - Special Proof
Proofs such as presentation proofs carrying a dedication by the artist.
A - Archive Copy
An impression identical to the edition, which is reserved for the archives
of the printer, print publisher, and/or a specified institution such as
C - Cancellation Proof
An impression taken from one of the printing elements that has been effaced
to indicate that no further impressions can be pulled.
HC - Hors de Commerce
An impression pulled outside the edition for the personal use of the publisher
or artist, usually created in lieu of artist's proofs.
WP - Work Proof
A proof on which the artist has drawn, painted or collaged. This proof
is used as a reference of changes the artist wishes to make in an edition
or to record directions the artist might pursue in the future.
Care of Paper
Prints should only be handled with clean hands or paper tabs. The paper
should be kept flat, grasped by the thumb and fingers at opposite edges
or corners in a way that will not cause the paper to buckle. Loose prints
should never be rolled for prolonged storage. Prints rolled in tubes for
mailing should be flattened as soon as possible. Unframed prints should
be stored with archival interleaving (such as glassine) in metal storage
cabinets or special solander boxes. Prints should never be in direct contact
with paper or paper products with an acid content such as cardboard or
Prints should be mounted only on archival rag backing board with neutral
pH. Special archival tapes (hinges) and adhesives should be used for mounting.
The print should never be placed in direct contact with glass or Plexiglas.
The humidity of the area where the print is to be displayed or stored
should be considered. High humidity may promote the growth of mold and
cause foxing, small dark spots of discoloration. If humidity is too low,
the paper may become brittle. Significant changes from low to high humidity
can cause paper to buckle as the paper expands and contracts. Dust and
pollution affect all works of art.
Strong light has serious effects on prints. Ultraviolet light is the
most damaging and may cause colors to change or fade. Placing framed prints
away from direct or strong indirect light and using UF3 Plexiglas to filter
out harmful rays will greatly reduce damage.
Jim Dine Prints 1985-2000 A Catalogue Raisonne and The Minneapolis Institute
of Arts, Details about Print Making Techniques, have been used.